was written in Old English, and the dominant feature of the verse is
alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonants in
words placed fairly closely together. In the original Old English,
each line in the poem is split up into two parts. Each line has four
stressed syllables. As Seamus Heaney, the translator, explains
in his introduction, the first stressed syllable of the second part of
the line alliterates with the first or second (or both) stressed
syllables of the first part of the line. Because of the way modern
English differs from Old English, Heaney's translation cannot follow
this scheme exactly, although the pattern can seen for example in line
64: "The fortunes of war favoured Hrothgar." In this line, the
first stressed syllable of the second part of the line (the first
syllable of "favoured") alliterates with the first stressed
syllable of the first part: "fortunes").
makes plentiful use of alliteration throughout his translation of the
poem. The first five lines for example, are consistently alliterative:
The Spear-Danes in days gone by
the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.
was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging amongst foes.
alliterating consonants are underlined. Note that "k" alliterates
with a hard "c," since the sounds are the same. The same applies
to "w," which is silent when followed by an "r," and "r."
examples could be chosen at random, such as:
sure-footed fighter felt daunted,
strongest of warriors stumbled and fell. (lines 1543-44)
is why the poem should ideally be read aloud (as it no doubt was in
the days of the mead-hall), because then these poetic effects can be